Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
Guanabara Bay, Neblina, new settlements, Jau, Amazon region
Concern for the environment in Brazil has grown in response to global interest in environmental issues. The clearing of forests in the Amazon Basin to make room for agriculture and new settlements has drawn national and international attention over possible damage to the rain forest. Environmentalists are concerned that the extensive loss of rain forest vegetation, which produces large amounts of oxygen, could have a wider impact on the global environment. However, as of 1996, only 12 percent of the Amazon region was estimated to have been significantly changed.
In many areas of the country, the natural environment is threatened by development. Highway construction has opened up previously remote areas for agriculture and settlement; dams have flooded valleys and inundated wildlife habitats; and mines have scarred and polluted the landscape. Rapid growth of urban areas has also contributed to pollution. There have been some efforts to deal with the problems of urban pollution, including cleaning up Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, the Tiete River in Sao Paulo, and the heavily polluted industrial town of Cubatao, near Sao Paulo.
Brazil has many different types of environmental conservation units throughout the country, including national and state parks, reserves, forests, and natural monuments. The first national parks were created in 1937 in an effort to provide environmental protection. The largest national parks are those of Jau and Pico da Neblina in the state of Amazonas, with areas in excess of 2 million hectares (5 million acres). In 1973 a government department for the environment was established. There is now a wide range of protected areas in addition to the national parks; they include forest parks, ecological parks, natural monuments, biological reserves, and areas of ecological protection. Many state governments have designated protected areas, and land set aside for indigenous peoples also serves as nature reserves.
The largest single protected area is the National Forest of Rio Negro, also in Amazonas, with more than 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres). Designating sites does not necessarily mean that they can be securely protected, however. The government often lacks the resources or the will to stop ranchers and farmers who move into these protected areas. The country also faces conflicts in reconciling economic development and environmental conservation, and in allocating scarce investment funds to preserving the environment. However, the growth of ecological tourism may be one area in which conservation will be able to generate its own funds.
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